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Full text of "Mind's Eye: A Review of the Press March 1977"

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North Adams State College Prospectus Issue, No. 2 

ASSASSINATION. A troubling article by Allard K. Lowenstein in the February 19 
Saturday Review ("The Murder of Robert Kennedy: Suppressed Evidence of More Than 
One Assassin?"} tells the story of the former New York Congressman's reluctant 
entry into the case beginning in 1973 when he accepted an invitation to the home 
of TV spy Robert Vaughn in the belief that "spending half an hour with people who had 
gone gaga about the Robert Kennedy case would both prove my open-mindedness and help 
me persuade a good man to avoid further involvement in such foolishness." The autopsy 
report, which he was shown that day, turned him around. It flatly contradicted the 
official version of the murder: RFK was shot from behind at point-blank range, not 
from several feet in front of him where Sirhan Sirhan was standing. Looking further, 
Lowenstein found compelling evidence that at least ten bullets were fired in the hotel 
pantry; Sirhan 's gun held only eight bullets. In 1975 a panel of ballistics experts 
agreed that "there was no possible way to determine whether the bullets recovered from 
the victims (seven bullets from six people) had or had not been fired from Sirhan's 
gun." The doorframes and ceiling tiles which contained bullet holes and which were in 
police custody were destroyed by the Los Angeles Police Department on June 30, 19£>9, 
while the investigation was still in progress. Critical documents are missing. 
Lowenstein went to Germanyto interview "star" witness Karl Uecker, the man by Kennedy's 
side who wrestled Sirhan onto a steam table. Firmly repeating his court testimony 
(which was ignored in the trial), Uecker said that Sirhan fired only two shots. He 
continued, "It was decided long ago that it was to stop with Sirhan, and that is what 
will happen." Lowenstein does not know what the truth is, but he does know what 
happened to him when he tried to find out: he was stonewalled at every turn. "Event- 
ually, reluctantly, against all my instincts and wishes," he writes, "I arrived at the 
melancholy thought that people who have nothing to hide do not lie, cheat, and smear to 
hide it." His further speculations on what it all means are disquieting indeed. 

ROMAN BRITAIN. A different kind of detective story is told by archaeologist Robin 
Birley in the February Scientific American ("A Frontier Post in Roman Britain"). Of 
all the remains from Roman times to be found in England, Hadrian's Wall, erected in 
about 120 A.D. presumably to defend against the hostile Picts and Scots, most excites the 
imagination. Says Birley, "Tradition has characterized the border as a savage territory 
kept under control only by the iron discipline of the Roman troops who garrisoned 
a chain of lonely forts along Hadrian's Wall. In the past six years archaeological 
investigations at one such garrison, named Vindolanda, have yielded some notably 
revealing details of Roman frontier life. ... It is now known that the garrisons 
along the wall were far from lonely." A lively civilian community grew up outside the 
fort and "probably enjoyed a standard of living higher than that of any other people 
in the area until the middle of the 19th century." It is likely that the same was 
true of all the forts along the wall. Birley 's deductions are drawn from the discovery 
of at least seven layers of oxygen-free deposits underneath Vindolanda bearing 
perfectly preserved artefacts and written records so superior to anything previously 
found that it is probable that the history of the Roman frontier in Britain will have 
to be rewritten. Footnote: The author estimates that the complete examination of 
Vindolanda will take over 100 years. So, if you are looking for steady work. . . . 

ARGO MERCHANT. It is too early to assess the effects of the 7-6 million gallons of oil 
spilled by the Argo Merchant off Nantucket December 15. Says Sheldon Novick ("Ducking 
Liability at Sea," Environment , January-February), "In volume, it was the worst tanker 
spill in U.S. waters and the tenth largest anywhere in the world. In potential damage, 
it may yet be the worst on record, as it covers an area in which much of the world's fish 
and shellfish are harvested." Novick's special report sums up the known facts about this 
and ten other oilship mishaps in or near U.S. waters between December 15 and January 10. 


If you have been noticing newspaper stories about Indian land claims in Maine, Mashpee, 
Martha's Vineyard, and elsewhere in the East, and if you have not been paying close 
attention, get ready for a shock. The Indians have the white man up against the wall. 
See Robert McLaughlin's "Giving It Back to the Indians" in the February Atlantic , which 
details the Maine Indians successful struggle for justice, step by step from 1957 to now. 

Situation . The government of the United States is preparing a claim against the State 
of Maine, on behalf of the Passamaquoddy and Penobscot tribes, to 12.5 million acres 
comprising 5SZ of the state and to $25 billion in back rents and damages. The legal 
basis of the claim was allowed by Judge Edward Gignoux in a favorable disposition of a 
suit brought against Secretary of the Interior Rogers Morton by Tom Tureen, attorney for 
the Indians. On Christmas Eve, 1972, the judgment was upheld by the U.S. Circuit Court 
of Appeals in Boston. No appeal was made to the U.S. Supreme Court. The claim will 
involve one- third of the state's people and 100 of its cities and towns in an area 
stretching from Rockland to Eastport and north to Fort Kent. With title to the disputed 
territory now uncertain, bond issues have been cancelled, $100 million needs to be 
found — no one knows where — for municipal expenses in the first four months of 1977, 
realtors and title attorneys will do no business, construction workers will be unemployed, 
banks will suffer for lack of mortgage money, and capital will begin flowing out of the 
state. In short, the state's entire economy is gravely threatened. Why? Because no 
one took seriously the Indians' early attempts simply to talk the matter over. 

A Law and a Treaty . The First Congress of the United States approved a measure, the 
Indian Non-Intercourse Act of 1790, which created a trust relationship between the 
federal government and the aboriginal inhabitants of the land which became the United 
States of America. The intent of Congress, as interpreted by repeated Supreme Court 
decisions beginning with Chief Justice John Marshall, was "to obligate the federal 
government to assert its constitutional power in order to protect a 'simple, uninformed 
people, ill-prepared to cope with the intelligence and greed of other races,' and to act 
'to forestall fraud' to 'prevent the unfair, improvident or improper disposition by 
Idians of their lands. ' The Non-Intercourse Act states unequivocally that any land 
transactions between an Indian tribe and a non-Indian party must be supervised and 
specifically ratified by Congress on behalf of the sovereign United States. Any unrati- 
fied transaction, it says, is 'null and void.'" Enter the Treaty of 1794 between the 
Passamaquoddy Tribe and Massachusetts, a document lost to the Indians for 163 years, 
found in a cardboard box under an old Indian woman's bed in 1957 by John Stevens, 
governor of Indian Township, the preserve established by the treaty. Its terms, summarized 
by McLaughlin: "In exchange for nothing the treaty purported to take from the tribe all 
of their aboriginal lands, with the exception of permanent state protection of their 
title to ten acres at Pleasant Point, fishing rights, and fifteen islands in the St. 
Croix River, two islands in Big Lake, and the 23,000 acres that constitute Indian 
Township Itself." S ince 1794 all the islands and 6,000 acres of the treaty "grant" 
have been alienated. It was only these depredations, together with the sorry state of 
his people, that John Stevens originally sought to remedy. He little knew how far the 
search would carry him. 

Litigation . Is the Treaty of 1794 against the law? Yes. The decision of the U.S. Court 
of Appeals in Boston rendering the treaty null and void became the law of the land when 
the last day for an appeal to the Supreme Court, March 22, 1976, passed without a filing 
by either Maine or the United States. However, said State of Mainers, two legal doctrines 
based on the power of time were on their side, laches and adverse possession. Laches 
means that long-neglected rights cannot be enforced. Adverse possession holds that open 
and hostile control of one party's property or rights by another for a long enough time 
deprives the original owner of his interest. Alas, laches and adverse possession were 


struck down last June 23 by the Federal District Court of Rhode Island in support of a 
claim brought by the Narragansett Tribe to 3,200 acres of the town of Charlestown, R.I. 
Judge Raymond Fettine's opinion: "A legion of prior judicial decisions supports (the 
tribe's) position. The broad principle . . . that state statutes cannot supersede 
federally created rights has been applied with especial vigor to the question of Indian 
title as a result of the federal government's 'unique obligation toward Indians.'" 
Defense of title based on time and power, said Pettine, is "completely futile." Thus 
the aboriginal claim appears to be unassailable. In the words of Tom Tureen, whose 
group now represents thirteen eastern Indian tribes, "No legal issues are left to be 
decided. All we have to do now is prove the extent of the aboriginal holdings. 
Precedent covers everything else. The hardest part of the case is over." 

'Jit a t Now ? Somehow, and soon, the matter must be settled. Three courses of action are 
open. First, litigation; and that is what will happen if Maine stays on its collision 
course with defeated legal doctrines. Second, extinguishment of aboriginal title by act 
of Congress, about which more below. Third, negotiated settlement; this has always been, 
and remains, the Indians' preference. Congress has the power to extinguish aboriginal 
title, but it has never used it in the entire history of the republic. On the other 
hand, Congress does not have the power to extinguish monetary claims. If the Congress 
should decide to intercede in this case by way of title extinguishment, and the tribes 
are thus stripped of their direct route to recovering their land, "their only altern- 
ative," according to McLaughlin, "will be to press their monetary damage claims of 525 
billion with no mercy . . . focusing on the smaller landowners who are unable to pay 
the amounts involved, and foreclosing on their property." Not a pretty picture. "But 
the heretofore unthinkable — returning disputed lands to the Indians — must now be consid- 
ered a plausible, perhaps inevitable outcome. ... So the tribes wait for understanding 
to overtake the state." 

Thus ends Robert McLaughlin's account. Since he wrote, events have come thick and fast. 

On February 2 the Boston Globe reported that Archibald Cox, a long-time summer resident 
of Penobscot Bay (and thus holder of a disputed title) , has entered the case as an 
unpaid consultant on behalf of the Penobscot Nation and the Passamaquoddy Tribe. 

Meanwhile, the Maine Congressional delegation, contrary to its pro-Indian pronouncements 
of last summer, has been at work on legislation for extinguishment of Indian land title. 
"The Legislation . . . has been approved in principle," the Globe reported February 24, 
"by Sen. William Hathaway and Sen. Edmund S. Muskie, both Democrats, and Rep. William 
Cohen and Rep. David Emery, both Republicans. By eliminating land claims, the legis- 
lation would ease pressures on real estate and bonding markets in Maine. Officials in 
the state say that the Indian land claim is undermining state bonds and also paralyzing 
the real estate industry." Very possibly a bluff, the extinguishment threat looks like 
a move to gain leverage in a difficult situation. And it has already brought results. 
The next day's Globe (February 25) carried a Washington story by Stephen Wermiel 
saying that White House counsel Robert Lipshutz has requested Senator Muskie to post- 
pone legislation. The Carter Administration is responding favorably to a February 10 
letter from the Maine delegation asking for an independent assessment of the situation 
and will appoint an independent evaluator "as part of a multifaceted response by the 
Administration to Indian claims. ..." Confidence is building that a non-litigious 
solution will be found. And Maine sold some bonds last week, $15.4 million worth. 

It is not that many miles from Indian Township to the White House, but it took John 
Stevens twenty years to make the trip. 


Mashpee's Troubles . Mashpee — a name Chat most Cape Cod travelers have known as a 
place one drives through if cutting over from Route 6 to points between Falmouth and 
Hyannis — is a growing community. It now finds itself in a predicament identical to 
Maine's, defending against a suit filed by the Wampanoag Tribe for the recovery of 
13,000 of the town's 16,000 acres. "Since the suit was filed in Federal court last 
August," the Boston Globe reported on January 20, "title to all land in town has been 
clouded, causing a drought of mortgage money." The Wampanoags offered to settle for 
all the town's undeveloped lands. On advice of its attorney, James St. Clair, the 
town said no. Mashpee' s latest move ( Globe , February 24) has been to ask the Massa- 
chusetts banking community to contribute one-tenth of one percent of its investment 
to the town's legal defense fund. This would yield $100,000 (half of which is committed 
as a retainer to Mr. St, Clair). The proposal was not greeted with enthusiasm by the 
assembled bankers when they met last week with the town selectmen in the executive 
meeting room of the New England Merchants National Bank. Nevertheless, the group 
agreed to form a study committee to consider ways in which lending institutions might 
help solve the problem. 

Mashpee has also been In touch with the White House, we learn from the February 25 
Globe , asking for a mediator "as distinct from an evaluation." 

ft * : * if * '***** : * 

"The mills of the gods grind slowly, but they grind exceeding fine." When European 
man first set foot on the western continent, irreversible currents were set in motion. 
The new world proved to be a bed of inexhaustible inventiveness, a laboratory of 
scientific and technological genius whose abundance flowed back into the old world 
and changed the face of the earth. America became the most fecund nation in the 
history of the planet. 

But there was a problem. Our great social experiment, founded on principles of freedom 
and respect for human rights, had at its root a logical inconsistency — disrespect for 
the rights of the men and women who were already here. So has it been with the course 
of empire throughout history. But Americans have always thought of themselves as 
different. In recent years we have had occasion to see that we are not so different, 
and perhaps we are chastened. 

At any rate, through the workings of our own great structure of law, we are now 
presented with the opportunity to compensate the injuries we Inflicted on the first 
American people. This curious turn of events brings home the realization that the 
just society rests on but one thing, honor. 

The Mind' s Eye is planned as a monthly publication with summaries of noteworthy 
articles of general interest in the current periodical press. Members of the college 
community are invited to participate as editors and contributors. Suggestions as 
to coverage, format, and content are sought. Editor of this issue: Charles Mclsaac.